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Pirates cool off Braves, 9-3

Atlanta's Michael Bourn argues after being called out at second base during Monday's 9-3 loss to the Pirates.

Atlanta's Michael Bourn argues after being called out at second base during Monday's 9-3 loss to the Pirates.

ATLANTA — Mike Minor’s string of three straight quality starts ended with a thud.

Minor gave up a career-high seven runs, including a pair of two-run homers, and the Atlanta Braves fell to the Pittsburgh Pirates 9-3 on Monday night.

“He’s been so good, he’s allowed to have one of these outings,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said of Minor.

The Braves settled for a split of the four-game series. They haven’t lost a series since being swept by the Mets in three games to open the season.

Minor (2-2) had not given up more than three runs in three straight starts — all wins for the Braves.

The string of success ended for Minor. The left-hander gave up two-run homers to Pedro Alvarez and Yamaico Navarro as the Pirates enjoyed a long-awaited offensive breakthrough.

The Pirates, last in the major leagues with 58 runs in 22 games, almost doubled their previous season high of five runs. Neil Walker had three hits and drove in a run.

“That was huge,” Walker said. “It was good to get some runs early today, something we haven’t been able to do.”

Early? The Pirates hadn’t been able to score many runs at any stage of games.

It took the Pirates 22 games this season to score more than five runs. That was the longest streak since the 1972 Milwaukee Brewers went a major league-record 31 games into the season without surpassing five runs, according STATS LLC. The last National League team with a longer streak was the 1919 Boston Braves, who went an NL-record 23 games into the season without topping five runs.

Minor gave up eight hits and three walks in 6 1-3 innings. He struck out nine.

“They were taking good hacks off me the whole night,” Minor said. “You could tell they were pretty locked in.”

Alvarez and Minor were college teammates at Vanderbilt.

James McDonald (1-1) set a career high with 10 strikeouts as he improved to 3-0 in six career appearances against the Braves. He gave up a two-run homer to Freddie Freeman in the first inning, but recovered to allow only one run in the next 6 2-3 innings.

McDonald gave up three runs and seven hits and two walks in 7 2-3 innings. The right-hander’s previous career high of nine strikeouts also came at Atlanta on July 25, 2011.

“Maybe I’ve had a little luck here,” McDonald said.

The Braves said McDonald wasn’t lucky.

“I always knew he had good stuff but today he was able to control it,” said Michael Bourn, who had one hit.

“He was getting ahead with his fastball. He was throwing his curveball for strikes and for balls so it’s hard to tell the difference, which one is which. … He was on tonight, man. Give him credit.”

Alvarez gave Pittsburgh the lead in the fourth with his third homer in six days. He connected in both games of a doubleheader with Colorado on Wednesday. Alvarez hit only .191 with four homers in 74 games in 2011. His fifth homer came in his 18th game this season.

Navarro, who started in left field, was hitting only .077 (1 for 13) before he singled and scored in the fourth and hit his first National League homer in the sixth. He hit one homer for Boston last season.

Freeman pulled the first pitch he saw from McDonald about two rows over the right field wall for a two-run homer in the first inning. The line drive drove in Martin Prado, who walked.

The Pirates answered with two runs in the third and two in the fourth. Josh Harrison had a run-scoring single and Andrew McCutchen had a sacrifice fly. Navarro singled and scored on Alvarez’s home run in the fourth.

Eric Hinske had four hits for Atlanta, including a run-scoring single in the fourth.

Walker had a run-scoring single in the Pirates’ three-run seventh. Jose Tabata walked and scored from third on Brian McCann’s passed ball on a pitch from Chad Durbin.

NOTES: The Pirates optioned RHP Evan Meek to Triple-A Indianapolis after the game. … Hinske filled in for LF Jason Heyward, who was held out with soreness around his right oblique muscle. Manager Fredi Gonzalez said he did not believe the injury was serious and said Heyward might be available as a defensive substitute. “He woke up this morning a little sore, and I did not want to mess with it,” Gonzalez said. … Justin Wilson, Jose Diaz and Doug Slaten combined for a no-hitter for the Pirates’ Triple-A Indianapolis Indians on Sunday night. Wilson struck out nine in his 7 1-3 innings. … The Braves open a three-game series against Philadelphia on Tuesday night when Brandon Beachy faces Cole Hamels. The Pirates will continue their seven-game road trip when they open a three-game series in St. Louis. Charlie Morton will face the Cardinals’ Adam Wainwright.